Updated: Nov 1, 2022
Let’s talk INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS!
Intrusive thoughts are single handedly one of the most challenging things I have had to learn to manoeuvre through. Let’s start with identifying what they are. Intrusive thoughts are exactly what they sound like. Thoughts that intrude our minds. They could range from thoughts like “what if my partner cheats on me” to “what if I just jump off this bridge right now” or “what if I die today” The thoughts themselves are actually very normal and usually stem from fear and curiosity. However, the obsession over what they mean is where the harm lies.
I once listened to a podcast that gave this example of intrusive thoughts and the difference between neurotypical individuals and those with mental illness having them. Two separate people are walking on a bridge. One of them is neurotypical, the other with mental illness. They both have the same intrusive thought. The thought being “what if I jumped off this bridge right now” the neurotypical person would think wow that’s a strange thought but I’m not going to jump off the bridge. Then they would carry on with their day. The person with mental illness especially those relating to anxiety, depression and OCD would think that thought then psychoanalyze why they had the thought. In my case I would think woah what a strange thought. Wait, does that mean I want to kill myself? Should I not walk on bridges? Omg what if the bridge is going to collapse and this thought is a warning sign. Honestly sometimes these intrusive thoughts haunt me for days at a time and sometimes weeks.
I truly believe intrusive thoughts are a part of being human and a way for our subconscious mind to keep us alert & safe. However, the brains of those who have mental health issues or trauma usually over think and are more prone to fear based thinking. Rationalizing our thoughts become harder. We have lived through immense trauma and have a very different lens than most. We fear more because we have experienced more fear throughout our lives. We are constantly on guard with what could happen and usually expect the worst. I once heard someone say that allowing our brains to fixate on a fear based outcome means we essentially grieve it twice if it does come true. It seems silly right? To put ourselves through more stress on top of our already stressful lives. But for some of us it’s a daily struggle to fight off these thoughts.
I want to do my best to give advice on this subject matter despite it being difficult. What makes it so challenging is that everyone is so very different and every intrusive thought you suffer from deep down has some type of validity and logic to it ( to you ) or else you wouldn’t be fearing it in the first place. What I will start by saying is that your feelings are all valid. What you fear is yours to own and no one can take that from you. However, if you’re like me and you let your intrusive thoughts run wild it can be extremely unhealthy. The amount of times I let my fear brain consume me is detrimental. To live in a mindset of negative what if’s is taxing and honestly painful as fuck. This isn’t the way we’re meant to live. Not in crippling fear of both rational & irrational things. Not letting our intrusive thoughts win. We’re stronger than that and we’re more than capable.
Here are some skills I have learned along the way that help me when a intrusive thought rears it’s ugly head.
First off you need to remember it is 100% just a thought. You don’t need to own every thought you have just because you think it. We as humans have little to no control over our first initial thought. However, we do have control over the thoughts that follow the initial thought. So when an intrusive thought pops into our head we have the ability right then and there to breathe life into it or dead it. We have the power to give this thought meaning and we have the power to eliminate it.
My second piece of advice is affirmations. Out loud & in the mirror if possible, those work best for me personally. Always start by validating yourself and your experiences. Don’t shame yourself. Shaming yourself into feeling stupid for having these thoughts in the first place is only going to add more resentment & frustration towards yourself. Validate & then soothe. Say things to yourself like I understand why you would fear this. You’ve been through a lot. It’s normal, however we know that by allowing this thought to consume us it will cause us damage. So thank you for the warning sign but I am safe now. Repeat this as many times as you need. It may take 10 minutes or an hour and keep in mind your affirmations will all look different based on what your intrusive thoughts and fears are. Another great analogy to think of when speaking to ourselves gently is picture talking to a child who has had a nightmare and you’re trying to comfort them. How would you talk them down? How would you comfort them? Now channel that kind of love & understanding towards yourself.
Thirdly, use a strategy called fact vs fear based thinking. One of my favourite strategies I learned while in therapy. The fact vs fear strategy challenges you to look at things through a fact based lens. Let me share an example. I wake up fearing my boyfriend doesn’t love me anymore. I convince myself it’s true. Then I force myself to look at the facts. Did my bf say he doesn’t love me anymore? I remind myself of the time I googled how long it takes to fall out of love with someone. lol. The answer is 27 days for all who are curious. So it’s been 7 hours since we went to bed. Chances are he did not fall out of love with me over night.
As silly as these may sound when you have an intrusive thought it’s actually more challenging to not believe it than it is to believe it’s real or could happen. Lastly, I will always suggest therapy. I think therapy helps with most issues and almost all of the practices I’ve shared with you today have come from therapy. It’s a great and healthy way to share your deepest fears and concerns without fear of judgment.
I truly hope this blog has helped those who suffer from intrusive thoughts understand they are not alone. I hope these skills I’ve learned in therapy will come in useful to you when your next intrusive thought hits. I also hope this helps educate those who don’t directly suffer from this but want to learn more about it. Please share this with someone you believe could benefit from this.
Thank you for reading,